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Doctor Who and Sherlock – can we have Sci-Fi back please?

Mark Lawson wrote here ( )about the perils of self absorbed and self referencing TV shows becoming too obsessed with theirfans account of the shows, and not being concerned with the wider audience.

I’d argue that he’s missed the point somewhat, and made a category error in how these shows are defined. Let’s start with the category error. Once upon a time Dr Who was a kind of speculative fiction with pseudo-scientific parameters. It used the language of science, if not its rigour, to engage in allegorical fictions about invasion, the clash of cultures, and examinations of society itself. Figures like The Brigadier and The Master were not just plot devices but archetypes used, not always progressively, to explore ideas about our world.

Most of that appears to have vanished now; when I drop in and out Dr Who resembles nothing so much as a soap opera set against a background of techno magic, a series of lame plot devices and props whose purpose is neither speculative nor allegorical, but simply to enable the next cliffhanger. Yes, I know any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic (Clark’s Third Law) but in terms of Dr Who Clark’s First Law can’t apply because, simply, there appears to be no commitment to internal consistency or rigour that could enable a distinguished scientist to approve or rebut the speculations. Never mind explaining how the Doctor can have more than 12 regenerations, can someone please explain what the difference is between a sonic screwdriver and Harry Potter’s wand?

There’s a serious point here; speculative fiction gave us some key ideas and cultural reference points in the post war generation, but we are at risk of forgetting what science fiction was for. Everyone knows what a triffid was, but risks forgetting the key themes of the book, about the risks of genetic engineering and what a collapsed society would look like. I  think that there’s a great, and very funny film or TV series lurking in Wyndham’s Trouble with Lichen because the device (a drug that extends lifespan by a factor of three) enables an intelligent debate about the purpose and meaning of life and a wicked satire on media and political campaigning.

So please, never mind the fan fiction and the obsessives – can we have our sci-fi back?


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This entry was posted on January 4, 2014 by in Uncategorized.

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